Review by Donald Love 87

"The petals, my friend, are blowing in the wind..."

Nothing like a little Bob Dylan to start of a review. So, are you the type of gamer who likes fast paced action games with a lot of killing, blood and death? Do you like seeing mutilated corpses and shoot heads off? If so, this game might not be for you. Unless you want a change of pace, because then this will definitely be just that.

Flower is a kind of experimental game distributed via the PSN Store. Slow, soft and easy. The basic idea is that you're controlling the wind, and by spreading the petals of flowers you blow by, you can make both more flowers bloom and also get some color to this otherwise boring world. It might sound a bit strange, but I'll return to it and try to explain more later.

Graphics

This game isn't so much about detailed graphics as it is about the style of them. Except for the fact that the PS3 outputs in HD, I think even a GameCube would be able to make this kind of game look good. Of course, maybe it wouldn't be able to get every grass straw individually animated (as I think they are here), but it still wouldn't matter that much. More about style, as I said. It's hard to actually pinpoint what the graphics look like; it's not crisp realism but not over the top celshaded either. But one thing I can say about them is that they're beautiful.

The grass is gently flowing in the breeze, you make a flower bloom by blowing past it. Then you come across a string of other flowers, blow past them too and after a while, you get this huge "snake" of flying petals following your every move. Following the wind. After blooming enough flowers, the grass circle that was earlier yellow, dry and dead now gets new energy, rises up and becomes green.

I can't really explain how it looks, you're better off watching a gameplay video, pics wouldn't do it justice so you need to see it in motion. But while the graphics probably aren't the best you can squeeze out of the PS3, the style of the game more than makes up for it.

Sound effects and music

This game features some of the best original music I've heard in years. Orchestral music, most of it really soft and easy - just some piano or guitar, with strings added in from time to time to great effect. Adding to that, every flower you manage to bloom will add a tone to the background music. These tones will blend so softly in with the music, and never seem to be out of beat even when mixing up your wind speed.

Other than that, there are no sounds. There might be a small "jingle" every now and then when you bloom a certain amount of flowers to make something happen or find a secret one, but it still only feels like a natural part of the music. Wonderful, just wonderful.

Story

While the game do not have any real story, it sure has a theme which comes through very strong. Back when I was a kid, in the 90's, there were a lot of TV shows, comics and other stuff with a strong message, almost close to propaganda. That message returns in this game, and I'm glad to see it brought up considering it's almost died out since back then - environmentalism.

To me, the game is pretty much about how beautiful nature is and that we should be careful what we do with it. Wind powered electricity is good (one level has you "activating" wind turbines) while other types are bad. While it still feels a bit like propaganda, and there's a bit of a contradiction by a videogame company to do this considering the electric power used for computers and consoles. But rather than see it as negative as that, I think the game just wants to bring up the issue while not making it the main point. To make us think about the alternatives instead of just being stuck in one direction.

Controls

Ok, these are easy to describe. You steer the direction of the wind with the help of the motion controls of the Sixaxis. Start pauses and unpauses the game and every other button accelerates the wind. That's all there is to it.

These simple controls are really what makes this game. It's easy to pick up and get into; I let my mother try it for a while, she mostly play puzzle games like Tetris or Pokemon Puzzle Challenge, and she had no problem with finishing the second level. It also means, for us more hardcore gamers, that it'll just be a relaxing game. There will be no needs for fast reflexes or complex button combinations, just lean back and relax; you can always turn around and get things on a second try.

The only problem is that the Sixaxis has a few problems with the motion sensors. Since you need to hold the controller flat (as if it were lying on the ground), it goes against with how at least I hold my controller when relaxed. It takes a while after each startup to remember to hold it straight if you're like me and usually don't, but after 10 minutes or so you'll get into it. This has nothing to do with the game quality, the developers did fine with what they had to work with, just wanted to give you a little heads-up with it.

Gameplay

The gameplay is, like the controls, pretty easy. You start with one flower where you just have to blow off a petal and make it bloom with a gentle touch of a button. Then you blow around the area searching for other flowers. When you blow by them, they'll also bloom and release a petal and after a while you'll have this huge "snake" of petals blowing around.

Most flowers either one of two basic functions - either working like a guidance to where you should be going, or they are in a group where something happens if you get them all. Like in the first level when you activate all the red flowers in a group, they make the dead, yellow grass around them alive again. That's pretty much the goal of the game - bloom flowers, give life to the world. Each of the six levels looks and plays out a bit differently and it won't get repetitive. A level can take anything from less than 5 minutes to over half an hour to finish, depending on how much you want to explore and if you've played it before or not. One thing which strikes me as odd with the levels are some of the boundaries - when you go out of the playable area, an even stronger wind will blow you back. While mostly located at the top of hills or ravines - where it feels natural considering the elevation change works as a border, the wind is just higher up - sometimes it's located at some really strange places; like halfway across an open field. This destroys a bit of the feeling of freedom this game otherwise wants to portray.

You won't need to bloom every flower to finish a stage, but usually going that extra way of activating everything gives you a bonus. Those bonuses are what the game offers you in replay value, as it's otherwise a pretty short game. In each level, there are three sets of green, hidden flowers. These can be either found by just exploring, or are activated by doing a chain of blooming flowers. Also, in each level there's something special you can achieve to get a trophy - it's different for each, and while it's pretty fun to figure out from the trophy description and then trying to do it, you won't get anything for it in-game which I find a bit odd.

While the game is rather short, it's still worth it because it's cheap compared to a full retail game and the exploration of finding the hidden flowers and trophies will more than double the play time, if you're not a lazy person who just looks it up in a guide on the web, but that kinda defeats the purpose. If you've got a PS3 with a bigger hard drive (unlike me), it might also be a game you keep installed and play every now and then if you've got a few spare minutes and just wants something relaxing.

TOTAL

While I like the game, it surely isn't for everybody. Before getting it you'll need to consider yourself if you like a pretty slow-paced gameplay. But as far as pure things go, most things are good. Nice graphics, beautiful music (I think there even were a bundle released on PSN with an mp3-soundtrack included) and soothing gameplay.

The drawbacks are that the controls are a bit strange sometimes, some strange level boundaries, and also I feel a bit cheated that all you get for finding secrets are trophies. Back in the day, unlocks usually unlocked something... An extra level or something would've been nice. Of course, the exploration then finding gives a nice feeling, but I still want something more.

But overall, it's a solid game, and well worth it if you've got some money to spend in the PS Store. I give this an 8 out of 10.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/29/11

Game Release: flower (EU, 02/12/09)


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